For the first time since the War on Cameras began in earnest, the U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on a federal lawsuit regarding the right to record police in public, leaving no doubt that it is protected by the First Amendment.
The suit stems from the 2010 incident at the Preakness Stakes when Baltimore police deleted footage from a man’s camera after he recorded them making an arrest.
The ACLU last year sued the Baltimore Police Department on the behalf of Christopher Sharp, who video recorded the arrest. The above video was recorded by another citizen.
On January 10, attorneys from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division wrote a “statement of interest” to the judge overseeing the case.
According to the Baltimore Sun:
The federal attorneys say the lawsuit “presents constitutional questions of great moment in this digital age.” They asked U.S. District Judge Benson Everett Legg to rule that citizens have a right to record police officers and that officers who seize and destroy recordings without a warrant or due process are violating the Fourth and 14th amendments.
“The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution,” Justice Department attorneys wrote in a “statement of interest” filed Jan. 10 in the case.
“They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.”
“At minimum, defendants should develop a comprehensive policy that specifically addresses individual’s First Amendment right to observe and record officer conduct,” attorneys wrote. “Morever, BPD should track allegations that an officer has interfered with a citizen’s First Amendment right to observe and/or record the public performance of public duties.”
Now it is up to the judge to make the ruling, but he would have to create laws out of thin air in order to rule against the wishes of the Department of Justice.
This Department of Justice’s statements might also influence the pending ACLU vs Alvarez case that is challenging the constitutionality of the controversial Illinois wiretapping law, which makes it illegal for citizens to records cops in public without their consent.